Updated: Apr 22
Browsing rows of dusty shelves. Sun-faded VHS artwork. Huge cardboard displays. These were the things of video store utopia. Fast-forward to the present, however, and you'll have trouble finding a room full of physical media to loan. This article will detail former video joints in my town, but let's start by getting the only active one out of the way:
This store is my last local vestige of retail video greatness. It's this or the dreaded Redbox. What fun is that? UPDATE: This store is out of business as of September 2020.
I can remember when Family Video sprang up from the ground, circa 2001. Elmira's Pet Boutique was torn down to make way for it. The main thing I will always remember about that store was their permanent sign in the window, which read "Pet Burial Kits." No wonder they went out of business!
Believe it or not, there was quite a controversy when Family Video first came to town. The local paper ran a story, questioning whether it was a porn store. An unspecified number of Family Video locations have an unadvertised "back room," and I suspect that to be the case with ours.
This store opened up with more square footage, and about a third of the building was converted to a Jimmy John's. The sub shop was closed because it ended up being a front for drug trafficking. (That's not the only time you'll hear about drugs in this article.) You can see the empty storefront to the left of the photo below.
I once applied for a job at this location, and was given a written test that would be intimidating to NASA candidates. I specifically recall a question about determining barometric pressure. I believe this test was given specifically to people they didn't want to hire, especially because I heard of an employee through a friend who was asked "Do you like movies?" as his sole interview question. Lame. Still, I frequented this store out of principle until they insisted I had outstanding late fees and wouldn't let me rent anything until they were paid. Even though it was only a couple of bucks, those movies weren't late. Family Video is now more of a CBD store that happens to rent movies; they don't even advertise new releases anymore.
The following locations once housed epic collections of movies. I'm proud to say that I patronized almost all of them:
The Video Loft
There were two Video Loft locations. Their tagline was "Your Fourth Network," which quickly became dated. This location of the main store has left behind a testament to its former glory:
This Video Loft was cannibalized from the defunct fast-food chain, The Red Barn. Back in the '70s, my mom contracted food poisoning at a Red Barn location (not this one), and was in a coma for five days. The hospital told my dad that they weren't sure she was going to make it. Thankfully, she did. Back then, nobody sued.
I always wondered if The Video Loft took its name retroactively, due to the "barn" signage. They wouldn't have been the first business to do so: The first Pizza Hut store inherited a sign that read "Pizza," and had enough room for three more letters. I bet you didn't know that. Stick with me, kid.
Here's how the store was laid out: They took out the tables, and put in aisles of tapes. It could have been done overnight, and maybe it was. Even the counter where customers would have placed their orders was still there. It may have been the same cash register. Looking back, it was a weird setup, but nobody cared. This Video Loft location was closed by the late '90s. (All of the dates in this article are from memory and should not be taken as gospel.) I remember these guys having a great horror lineup. I once got paper cutout Thing from The Addams Family here.
Unfortunately, the building has since been demolished, and you can bet that whatever is eventually built there won't be nearly as awesome. (Unless it's an arcade, which is about as likely as another video store.)
The Video Loft, cont.
The storefront on the far left was the "other" Video Loft, located across town. This store was much smaller. There was a really creepy wooden shanty inside, bearing the sign "Adult Training Films," which presumably taught fiduciary responsibility. Incredibly, this location lasted until around 2013, when it became a mattress store, and now it's a hydroponics shop. I ended up buying a good chunk of Video Loft's collective inventory.
The Video Loft had at least one sister store called Video City, but I don't know where it was located. The tape is Parents, starring a pre-insane Randy Quaid. The "Fourth Network" branding is the giveaway:
The building with an identity crisis, Video Tech later became a veterinary clinic, and now it's a Dunkin' Donuts. There was another Video Tech location in a neighboring town.
I can still see the Super Mario Bros. 3 poster in the window which now sports a sandwich ad.
Of all the stores in this list, Video Tech is the most special to me. I vividly recall renting Mrs. Doubtfire there, after seeing it at a friend's house. I remember seeing their signage out front, thinking that Father's Day and What's Love Got To Do With It didn't display well together. My dad got me this Sonic the Hedgehog gum dispenser from the store. It still has candy in it, but I think I'll save it for later!
My friend Luke hooked me up with this Video Tech treasure, The Book of Pooh. Sometimes, the jokes write themselves! You can read Luke's review of Return of the Living Dead Part II here.
Most important to me however, is this Children of the Corn promotional balloon, another gift from my dad. In 1995, he was working as an ad executive with a radio station, and Video Tech was one of his clients. The store manager gave it to him for me, and it's been mine ever since. It's still filled with the carbon dioxide of an anonymous minimum wage employee. Seriously, this thing hasn't been inflated since the mid '90s. They don't make inflatable corn like they used to. I remember seeing this for the first time, as it sat in the back of my dad's red 1987 Daytona Pacifica:
The former owner of Video Tech found this article and contacted me! He sent me photos of the store, circa 1988. Super-cool guy.